Reflections from the Confederate Relic Room

For the past two years my charge has been to promote and raise money for the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum.  But today that will change when I turn in my keys and prepare to take on a new challenge as the Public Relations and Government Affairs Manager for the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

But as a blogger, y’all know I couldn’t bid adieu to this once in a lifetime experience without reflecting on my time representing the Relic Room.

First, I can’t tell you how much I’m going to miss telling people I work for the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum.  I got such a kick out of watching people’s faces as the word confederate registered in their minds.  Seeing the various thoughts that flickered through their heads as they looked at me, a black woman, who just said she works on behalf of “The confederates” provided me with countless entertainment at cocktail parties and networking events.

Even more fun was when the conversation went to the next level and folks allowed their burning curiosity to the best of them… most of the time I could see the quick debate they’d have with themselves on whether or not it was appropriate for them to ask the question on their mind but sometimes people would just blurt it out.

Anyways, some of the questions I was often asked are:

“Did they see you before they hired you?” (No, seriously, I was asked that several times…)

“What’s that been like for you?”

“How do the Confederates treat you?”

“How do you feel about that?”

“How’d you find yourself in that job?”

And so on…

So for those who have always wanted to ask but never had the chance or didn’t want to pry, let me share the following points:

I have thoroughly enjoyed the people I’ve met and worked with at the museum.  The team of professionals in the museum is truly first class. More over, despite the name, the SC Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum covers all of South Carolina’s military history and I’ve learned so much about the state’s contributions to America’s military conflicts that I am leaving this job even more proud to be a Carolina Girl than ever.

If by “The Confederates” you mean the Sons of Confederate Veterans or the United Daughters of the Confederacy, then I can honestly say that they’ve treated me just fine, thank you… and in fact have been very nice and agreeable.  No more or less so than they’ve been to any other staff person and, actually, there are several SCV guys who I really came to be quite fond of.

My primary motivation for taking the job was a desire to have a role in giving a voice to the people who contributed to the Palmetto State’s history in general and specifically to those Black Americans who made a difference in the story of South Carolina’s past.   To that end, on most days I felt proud of the little bit of difference I was able to make in telling those stories. But there were days I honestly did struggle with some of the ugly truths of South Carolina’s history and sometimes had to ask myself if I’d sold out or betrayed the efforts of my ancestors but every day I was glad to have a j.o.b.

…and everyday was genuinely a new learning experience.

So now that I’ve answered those most common questions.  Let me share with you a few other things I’ve learned over my two years at the museum…

3) Re-enactors recreate battles, Living Historians are civilians, and all of them are passionate about history but not all of them are historically accurate.  Another question I was often asked and I actually asked my co-workers myself was, “why re-create a battle that you’ve lost over and over again… the outcome is never going to change.”  The answer? Well there are various motives for getting into the re-enactor/living historian biz.  Some do it because they feel a personal connection to the valor of their ancestors who fought in the Civil War and others do it simply because they find it fun.  Either way, everyone agrees that it is an excellent tool for teaching history and I’ll admit that I’ve done a little of it myself, telling the story of Susan King Taylor who was an educator and a sometime Union Army guide… and when I saw another woman do her rendition of Mrs. Taylor I was almost inclined to take my Taylor impression on the road as mine was clearly far superior and I wouldn’t want anyone get her story wrong.  With that being said, unless you’re familiar with your history, I’d take them all with a grain of salt and I say that only because if you’re not up on your facts it may be difficult to discern a quality re-enactor/living historian from a lousy one.

2) The St. Andrew’s Cross is the most recognizable and notorious of the Confederate battle flags.  But what I found most interesting was that prior to the 1960s it did not have the same level of notoriety that it has today.  The turning point came in the early 1960s when the 100 year anniversary of the Civil War occurred at nearly the exact same time as the Civil Rights movement.  This collision of historical events created an environment that allowed certain sects who were against the Civil Rights movement to adopt the flag as their symbol of opposition of equal rights.  From there the flag took on a unique combination of meanings that has left some feeling that their heritage was usurped by hate and others feeling like there is a pride in a hateful heritage … either way the whole situation has probably done a dis-service to history… I.M.O.

1) History is complicated… its ugly, messy and it is often told from the perspective of the person telling it.  But it can also be extremely inspiring and can motivate us to do something of significance with our lives. The best way to understand history and get the truth is to research all perspectives with the understanding that the reality is somewhere in between and hopefully take away the lessons that will prevent us from making the same mistakes.

So that is just a tiny little bit of what I’ve taken away from my time at the museum.  It has really been an experience that I wouldn’t have changed for the world but I am definitely excited about what lies ahead.

Now while things are fresh in my mind, feel free to ask any other questions you may have or if you think I’ve missed the mark on something go on ahead and let me know about that, too.

And you can be sure you’ll hear more about my new gig as I get settled in.

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2 responses to “Reflections from the Confederate Relic Room

    • Kaela,
      I enjoyed reading about your experience at the Confederate Relic Room. It was my pleasure to get to know you. I did not know that you left there until today. You are very professional and a fine lady. I consider myself very lucky to have met you.
      Semper Fi,
      Jeffrey

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